Sunday, 16 July 2017

Grenfell Tower: European regulation permitted the fire

One of the greatest acts of faith by ordinary people in any modern society is that the state protects its citizens from all perils.


What happens to a state when it abjectly fails to protect its citizens?  What happens to the state when the failure is a design flaw of a regulation (mis-)sold as a protective measure?  What happens to the state when the media mis-reports just about every angle of the issue?


The fire at Grenfell Tower, West London (“Grenfell”), is poised to form the basis of a debate in which these questions will be asked with increasing anger and freneticism, alongside more pertinent questions that all levels of government, regulators and inspectorates will seek to divert, pervert and avoid at all costs.


In the UK, three inquiries into Grenfell look likely:


I’ve seen these sorts of things before: each inquiry turns into a publicity stunt, scoped very carefully to ensure that the guilty parties in the top levels of government are protected from their crap policy choices (and subsequent regulation).


As usual, eureferendum.com has done its homework.  Also as usual, it seems that the typical journalist can’t be bothered to do a proper job.


Much of this blog entry is my summary of Dr North’s various blog posts so that I can understand the chronology of events and the deductive logic required to form a coherent, if incomplete, conclusion.


A poor choice of building standard



The starting point was Dr North’s blog entry of 05Jul2017, which realises that throughout the EU, the base regulation is the enforcement of European Standard EN13501.  A German firefighter, Reinhard Reis of Frankfurt am Main, had to deal with a similar incident in 2012 and thereafter appealed for data for similar incidents in Germany.  So far, he had received reports of over 100 incidents, reporting 11 deaths and 100 injured
eureferendum.com hosts a PDF dated 29Jun2017 that lists them.  They date from 2001 to 2017 and include Grenfell.


Predictably, of course, the Grauniad reported Reis saying that German standards are higher than British standards, so Grenfell couldn’t happen there.  So, that proves (again) that the Grauniad is happy to spread “fake news” when doing so meets the Grauniad’s left-wing ideological objectives of spreading hatred of Britain for the sake of hatred.  Elsewhere, a comment from the Grauniad wrongly said:
“In fact, regulations on building materials and fire safety are a matter for national governments. (The chancellor, Philip Hammond, suggested last weekend that the flammable cladding used might be illegal in the UK, as it is in other countries such as the US and Germany.)”


However, if the Grauniad had correctly quoted Reis, then this “fake news” has inadvertently revealed that the Germans might be just as ignorant as the English about European law.  In particular, the bit that the Grauniad chose to ignore was this inconvenient fact: the requirements of building materials to resist fire for a minimum time period have been the same in both Britain and Germany for decades, i.e. European Standard EN13501.


But there is a fault in the method of fire testing.  One has a choice of testing individual components (“a material test”), or that of testing the complete installation (“a system test”).


EN13501 is a material test, not a system test.  Why & when did the EC make EN13501 mandatory?


In 1994, the EC started a process to harmonise fire testing, based on a material test (the Single Burning Item test).  Whether CEN/CENELEC did anything about this, I don’t know.


In 1999, a UK Parliamentary Select Committee was working on a system test, which eventually became BS8414.  Australia adopted BS8414 in 2016.  But Britain could not adopt it, because in 2000, the European Commission published Commission Decision 2000/367/EC (note that this is a “text with EEA relevance”).  This gave the European Union a regulatory toehold in the field of building regulation.  In accordance with TFEU Article 2 paragraph 2, the Commission Decision locked in a material testing regime of EN13501 and locked out Member Nations from replacing EN13501 with more fit-for-purpose standards.  Once locked out, Member Nations need to ask the EU for permission to add or to amend legislation in the same field, but as will become clear in later sections of this blog, the EU had no political will to accept that EN13501 was unfit for purpose.


With an inferior material test locked into law, work began on a more fit-for-purpose system test.  Although a mandate for this had existed since 1994, the real effort started in 2007 and the need for a European-wide system test was finally recognised in 2013.  The phrase “better late than never” doesn’t seem enough to describe it.  As at 2013, we really were waiting for the lazy convenience of disinterested bureaucrats, weren’t we?


But the contradiction - confusion? - between material tests and system tests continued.  The EC offered a tender in August 2016 for a contract to develop a European approach to the fire assessments of facades (cladding).  Meanwhile, impatience in Germany resulted in an attempt to bypass European law (i.e. running two systems in parallel) by drafting a German equivalent of BS8414.  The draft become DIN 4102-2 and is being boycotted by the German unions because they perceive DIN 4102-2 as being too weak.


Dr North noted that China already adheres to BS8414, but that no European Member Nation can do.


A poor strategic choice for public policy

Meanwhile, the European Union pursued its framework strategy of Europe 2020.  One key feature in this framework is the set of targets relating to climate change.  One implementation of these targets was Directive 2010/31/EU which set out orders for each Member Nation to do something about energy performance of buildings.  For most consumers, the energy performance certificate is the most common connection they have with the Directive.  It’s a good example of just how deep the impact of European regulation can be, good or bad.


Consequently, there became a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions and to increase the energy efficiency.  This meant some sort of external insulation - typically covered with cladding - be installed on buildings.  Grenfell Tower was one such building.


The effects of this strategic choice were measured by a team of Croatian fire researchers (Pečur et al) in 2015 and again in 2016.  The researchers found that applying combustible insulation to the outside of buildings did indeed increase the fire risk of a building.  Blindingly obvious, I’d say!  The researchers recommended that if energy performance of building were to be tightened, then so too should be tightened the fire performance of buildings.  In other words, the researchers called for a system test.  The researchers recommended BS8414 for high-rise buildings and DIN 4102-20 for medium-rise buildings.


“Absence of harmonised EU test method for determining fire performance of building façade and therefore presence of a number of national test methods are a barrier to trade for the European Common Market of construction products and may cause unequal level of fire safety for the same type and height of buildings across the EU, since the different national test methods have different test set up and different fire performance criteria. Thereby, fire performance of the façade systems can be fully and equally assessed across the whole EU by taking into account building type (level of fire load) and building height, thus performing harmonised medium or large scale test, i.e. full scale test as Kotthoff suggested (Kotthoff, 2015). Authors of this paper strongly support this approach and consider DIN Entwurf 4102-20 as a suitable basis for the future harmonised EU test method for the medium-rise buildings (height 7 – 22 m) and BS 8414-1:2002 as a suitable basis for the highrise buildings (height > 22 m), i.e. for determining their fire performance.”
Extract: 2016 report, section 4 (conclusion), 1st para.


So far, so good.  But what’s the problem?


The researchers realised that the energy efficient targets of buildings asunder Directive 2010/31/EU required retro-fitting insulation and cladding on existing buildings.  In section 1 of the 2015 report, Pečur et al stated that insulation could be either combustible or non-combustible.  Outside the report, however, it falls into the realms of the obvious that the only reliable way that any insulation material would be viable to meet energy efficiency requirements was to use a man-made, or artificial, insulating material.  And, unfortunately, this insulating material would be combustible.  Natural materials simply wouldn’t conserve sufficient heat to increase energy efficiency by enough to meet the targets.  (Further beyond the scope of the Pečur et al, I would also question the cost-effectiveness of the targets over the long-term: the presumption of refurbishment is that refurbishment is an overall better use of resources than demolition-and-reconstruction, and, for high-rise buildings, there are social costs as well as energy and/or carbon costs to consider.)


So, the net result is that Directive 2010/31/EU had embarked upon an arbitrary target of energy efficiency without first checking whether it was feasible, or second checking whether the arbitrary target would by-pass essential checks for safety, i.e. EN13501.  The EU’s random policy picking machine had failed to join the dots.  The EU had given us exactly the same crappy disjointed incrementalism, arising from same crappy departmental bunker mentality, as us Europeans would normally get from our own crappy national governments (only at considerably more cost).  Worse, the EU had ensured that none of our crappy national governments could put down regulation to make good the shortcomings of the EU’s standards.


The stage was set for disaster.  One EU set of regulations pushed us towards using combustible insulation; another set of EU regulations allowed us to combustible material without regard to how it was being deployed on any particular building.  Demonstrably, the EU had no political will to resolve this conflict at all, let alone to do urgently.


Botched implementation

Of course, no story relating to British public life is complete without gross incompetence.


Immediately in the aftermath of Grenfell, UKGov reacted in the standard pattern of “issue-avoidance”.  In the case of Grenfell, the UKGov ordered tests on the cladding of high-rise towers blocks, even though the cladding was not the issue.  The issue was, and remains, the combustible insulation.  Even if UKGov knowingly commissioned a material test in accordance with EN13501, it seems that UKGov was obsessed with testing the wrong material in the system.  Such is the evasiveness of government, that it has probably already chosen not to test the alleged insulation material (RS5000, see below) on the basis that it wasn’t certified for use.


And because builders may test their buildings in accordance with BS8414 (as an additional form of compliance, not a replacement, to EN13501), it should strike the reasonable observer that UKGov doesn’t understand its own legislation.  For the avoidance of doubt, the building may test asunder BS8414, but the Member Nation must not make BS8414 mandatory without express permission from the EU.


Oops.


And it’s not as if UKGov is entitled to have remained ignorant.  In 2000, Peter Field from the Building Research Establishment told a Commons Select Committee investigating a fire at Irvine that EN13501 was seriously inadequate because it required only a single burn test on each building component separately, and not together as a constructed system (again, the difference between a material test and a system test).


But what would UKGov have needed to do to strengthen EU regulation quickly, to bring it into the realms of being fit-for-purpose?


Well, in the early 2000s, it would have meant sending John Prescott to Brussels to bang the drum.  Dr North claims that the records show a focus by Prescott and his officials on implementing improved insulation for buildings, unaccompanied by a parallel focus on the fire safety of the insulation being used.  I can’t help but think cynically that had Prescott gone to Brussels, then Brussels would have been whingeing about the British finding some other objection to this-that-and-the-other, i.e. “the British always seem to miss the point of everything, don’t they?”, the point in this case being the crusade against global warming.


I’m not sure that UKGov and EU would have deliberately chosen to prioritise the crusade against global warming over basic fire safety, but the evidence is that they did so, even if only negligently.


A criminal enterprise?

And so we turn to the question as to whether compliance with botched regulation is an adequate defence against the charge of corporate manslaughter.


Included within the scope of all such inquiries intending to be relevant to Grenfell’s story must be the vendors and the buyers.  The London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (“LBK&C”) contracted with Rydon to refurbish the Grenfell Tower in April 2014.  Dr North appears to have traced this to the insulation material used, which was apparently Saint Gobain’s Celotax RS5000.  The sales schpiel says that it “is the first PIR insulation board to successfully test to BS 8414-2:2005, meet the criteria set out in BR 135 and therefore is acceptable for use in buildings above 18 metres in height.”


But BS8414 is a system test, not a material test.  So when and where was this insulation tested?


RS5000 appears to have been a new product, launched in August 2014.


So, Dr North deduces that LBK&C must have been amongst the first - if not the first - to have used RS5000.  I agree with Dr North’s reasoning in this respect.  It is highly unlikely that RS5000 could ever have been subject to a system test, let alone BS8414.  So therefore, the sales schpiel offered a fundamental misrepresentation before contract (fundamental misrepresentation before invitation-to-treat!!).  How can this sales schpiel be an innocent error?


I was unable to find a Certificate of Agrément for RS5000 as at 15Jul2017, so it’s questionable whether RS5000 has been successfully tested asunder a material test of EN13501.  Moreover, as Dr North deduces, the product only seems to survive a test when cladded.  But this raises even more questions about how Saint Gobain could have possibly tested RS5000.  On the face of it, the use of RS5000 was untested and therefore non-compliant under EN13501.  At this time, I think we can only speculate whether RS5000 within facade/cladding might have passed tests under BS8414.


In turn, it also questions what questions LBK&C asked of Rydon to be confident that the refurbishment would result in a safe building, and how complete, accurate and valid were Rydon’s replies to LBK&C.  Yes, LBK&C is entitled to believe representations of Rydon, but given the nature of the project, then LBK&C would have needed a lot of assurance - including supporting evidence from independent sources - that the end result would be safe.  LBK&C would have needed to know the precise deployment plan, with certified evidence of compliance (and compliance to which standard, precisely), and correct answers to questions mainly beginning with the word “how”.


Objectively, common sense says that you don’t change building systems willy-nilly.  Grenfell Tower had only one set of stairs, with no alternative escape routes - something that apparently puzzles nearly everybody worldwide, given the building’s construction date of 1974  - so the fire safety instructions to residents was to stay in their apartments.  I don’t know what the Fire Plan for Grenfell was, but the Torygraph reports that the Fire Plan might have been challenged by residents.  Nor do I know what fire safety mechanisms had been planned within the structure of the building, i.e. how the layout/configuration of the bulkheads, corridors, floors, ceilings, windows were designed to impede the spread of fire.


But the most obvious thing to challenge is whether a layer of combustible insulation mounted on the outside of the building would give fire a really effective means of by-passing any fire impediment mechanisms designed within the infrastructure of the building.  In any police investigation, identifying the person(s) who failed to ask that question should be a top priority.

The cover-up

For all of the private corporations and individuals implied in Grenfell, there are also public sector corporations implicated, too.


One of those public sector corporations is the European Commission, whose standard EN13501 is ultimately the false assurance that misdirected everybody into testing materials instead of systems, and let this false assurance remain as a mandatory standard for years, alongside the better standard BS8414.


Another one of those public sector bodies is UKGov, who signed up to TFEU in the full knowledge that when the EU regulates in a field, then no Member Nation can do so without express permission from the EU.  But of course, given the EU’s poor choice to prioritise the crusade against global warming over and above basic fire safety, it was reasonably foreseeable that the EU would have dismissed any request from any Member Nation to replace the material test standard EN13501 with the system test standards BS8414 for high-rise buildings and DIN 4102-2 for medium-rise buildings.  In all likelihood, the EU would have dismissed such requests on the grounds that such a change would have impeded harmonisation of the existing standard EN13501 and thus erected barriers in the Single Market between Member Nations.  Then again, had the EU been more competent with its choice of public policy at the outset, BS8414 and DIN 4102-2 could have been the content of EN13501 many years earlier on, and a far greater degree of harmonisation could have been achieved much earlier than today…  So, on this occasion, the UKGov can legitimately blame the EU for procrastination, inactivity and sabotage.


In all of the UK inquiries set to happen for Grenfell, the scope of each one is going to be crucial to determine which culpable elements of the public sector are going to get away scot-free for the gross negligence that they injected into Grenfell.


The political pressure that the EU is going to exert on UKGov - amidst Brexit! - to ensure that the EU’s “right to be forgotten” is going to be very high.  We already know that the EU considers itself untouchable: the failure of the EU crappy policy choices at Grenfell will augment the EU’s sense of superior detachment from the consequences of its crappy policy choices.


Of course, UKGov hasn’t got a clue about much nowdays - fire regulation, Brexit, own statute book: these are all mysteries to UK Parliament, UK politicians, UK civil servants, UKGov and UK media - so the EU is probably going to get away with it.  Post-Brexit, we’ll have to leave the Germans to dig themselves out of their own fog of ignorance, to find out how German citizens might have been killed and betrayed by EU standards.  UKGov is going to be more concerned about evading its own culpability in Grenfell anyway.


Meanwhile, media outlets continue to report bollocks, thus granting the EU its “right to be forgotten” without the EU ever needing to ask for such right.  The ignorance and issue-illiteracy of traditional media outlets is well-established, but, worryingly, the new media is also reporting errors and falsehoods.  BuzzFeed fell into the trap of pure ignorance perfectly: in a map to link bodies related to Grenfell, it wrongly omits British Standards Institute, the European equivalent (CEN and CENELEC), the European Commission who mandated EN13501, the European Organisation for Technical Approvals (EOTA) the Standing Committee on Construction (SCC, link from third party), and others identified by Dr North.  All essential to understand the issue, and yes, the issue really is this complex!  Accountability is easier to evade if it is split in loads of different ways, all smoke-and-mirrors.  So presumably, the “new media” are recruiting the same low grade of lazy journalists that the legacy media continue to employ.  Fake news continues to spread like hot butter!


Meanwhile, while the UKGov engages in damage diversion, the opposition Labour Party has decided a publicity campaign of “Public sector austerity murdered Grenfell’s residents.”  This is wilfully wrong, and such a deliberate attempt to mislead, that it is beyond morally offensive.  But there are plenty of deeply stupid people out there who will want to believe it.


All of which is set to add Grenfell to a long and growing list of UK taxpayers of reasons to go to civil war…


Credibility of the witness

Dr North reports in his blog that he was a district environmental health officer who studied building construction methods and has previously co-enforced building regulations, even including fire safety standards in multi-occupancy buildings.  He claims not to be an expert, but his blog demonstrates repeatedly that he can read standards, follow the details (unlike the mass media) and return coherent, qualified opinions on technical matters.

Unlike legacy media outlets, Dr North provides evidence to support his assertions.  I have reviewed links to the key elements of his views and have found them to be in order, used in the correct context and extracting the appropriate conclusions.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

European Commission v Google

On 27Jun2017, the European Commission fined Google EUR 2.42bn for allegedly abusing its monopoly position regarding being a search engine.

Having reflected on the matter, I see no rational basis for the EC’s position, whether it be a legal basis, economic basis or political basis.

As the EC’s press release says, Google has used its search engine functionality to scrape shopping deals and present it on its “shopping” tab of search results.  The EC believes that it promotes products that Google is paid by its customers (i.e. advertisers) to promote, and that this is the basis of abusing the market.

The EC’s wonky thinking is (typically) at the outset.  The EC claims, “Google… provides search results to consumers, who pay for the service with their data.”

At first glance, there is a tempting academic merit in the EC’s flawed position.  But, actually, it is fatuous.  The consumer can only be said to “pay… with their data” if consumers are knowingly and consciously doing so.  Most consumers won’t and, even when prompted by Google to agree the terms of service, most consumers won’t care.  Consumers just want it to work, i.e. to deliver what consumers ask it for.

Consumers know that Google is an advertising agency, because the ads are clearly denoted on search results delivered on-screen to the consumer.  Indeed, the whole point of Google is for the consumer to pull in relevant advertising, and that by definition means two-way communication.

Therefore, the EC’s position is more than just flawed: it’s idiotic.  The EC seems to think that a bona fide approach by a consumer to the market requires the consumer to be absolutely dead silent about what they want, and why.  Quite how the EC thinks consumers can negotiate even invitations-to-treat from Google’s search results while Google apparently gags the consumer is a mystery.  The consequence of the EC’s position is to undermine the consumer’s ability to exercise choice, rather than to bolster the consumer’s position.

The EC’s flawed position is also discriminatory.  The data that the EC claims Google “receives” from consumers includes the same dataset that mobile telephone providers get from their users on a continuous basis, e.g. location and data exchanged over the network.  Yet the EC isn’t fining the likes of Vodafone and KPN for abusing their market position for knowing the location of their consumer customers at the time the consumer customers use the phone for either voice, text or data services.  But, Google is apparently different.  For a start, it’s American.

The EC has so comprehensively missed the point of a retail consumer’s use of Google (and similar services from Microsoft and Apple) that Google has had to spell it out in simple baby language.

Google perceives the EC’s position to be that Google’s results should promote other search engines in preference to Google’s customers’ data/products/entries.  Google seems to think that the EC wants to see a text list of other search engines for consumers to try, promoted above all other content in Google’s search results.

I agree with Google’s analysis.  It underpins what I wrote above, that the consequence of the EC’s position is to undermine the consumer’s ability to exercise choice, rather than to bolster the consumer’s position.

For example, as a consumer, I choose not to use Bing, largely because I’ve never found Bing to be anything like as focussed on my shopping preferences than Google.  Because Google shares data with its customers (advertisers), Google learns my language more fluently, and gets me to the results I want.  I’d guess that Bing does the same thing as Google, but I’ve never received as focussed results with Bing than I do with Google, so I gave up on Bing.  Microsoft later bought Yahoo, which I always disliked using, because Yahoo seemed to be on some hell-bent mission to piss off its userbase (and therefore also its paying advertising customers) with dysfunctional software (botched-by-design).  That told me that Bing and Yahoo were going to merge, thus meaning that Bing was likely to get even worse.

What I absolutely don’t want is any search engine to tell me about other search engines that will invariably also fail to deliver what I want.  If I want to buy shoes, I want to see shoes, not other search engines (or any other poxy thing the EC wants me to read).  The only time I want to find other search engines is if I search for “search engines”.  I’d Google it.  Hell, I just have!  No sponsored results on Google (obviously), but for the purpose of this blog post, here is a summary of my findings.

Other search engines?

A quick review of one of those top five results was searchenginewatch.com (the “Page”).  So I clicked on that and started to read it.  But within 10 seconds, searchenginewatch.com interrupted me with spam: a dialogue box, “Get top insights and news from our SEO experts.”  Hmph.  Is there a polite response to this?  No, I’m afraid not.  My initial response was untypeable on this blogpost.

Ordinarily, I’d have immediately given up reading searchenginewatch.com, because I really dislike being rudely interrupted by spam - Google knows this, which is why Google doesn’t do it, which is probably something else the EC doesn’t like about Google (remember, the EC wants us to click pointlessly on webpages for something stupid to do with cookies) but for the purpose of this blog entry, I responded to searchenginewatch.com’s spam (“No thanks”) and read the rest of the page.

There is a search engine that hides your personal data, DuckDuckGo (wiki), whatever is meant by “personal data” in this context.  It’s also American, so no doubt the EC will target that one in due course, most likely for failing to record consumers’ preferences and consequently delivering spam and failing to obey the cookie law.

Quora (wiki) is a question-and-answer platform, rather than a search engine.  Users benefit from it by logging into it via… either Facebook or Google+.  No doubt the EC will wage a racially discriminatory trade war against Quora, too, in due course.

Another alternative avoiding Google, America and the EC seems to be the dominant Russian search engine Yandex (wiki).  A quick search for “european commission v google” returned a wiki page in first place (nb: the search was done in browser Google Chrome, which probably counts as irony, no doubt the EC will want to prosecute me personally for being a consumer that deviates from its preferred ideology).

As at 15Jul2017, the Page had 117 comments.  The latest entry from slugger_mcbuster of 2016 says it all:
“The trouble with the "alternate" engines is that they're either trying to use gimmicky interfaces and "specialty" results, and/or they're basically underpowered offshoots of Google as it is in its present semi-dysfunctional state (in some cases, they're even powered by Google).

“Bing as the first runner-up is horrendously bad, limited in scope and results, and has one of the most user-unfriendly, ham-fisted implementations you could possibly conjure up.”

The comments also reveal that too many people seem to think that Google’s search results are biased because Google doesn’t filter out “fake news” (i.e. findings that the user didn’t want to see).  I disagree that this is a fault of Google: all the search engine does is report the web address of publicly available text on the internet, typically listed in the order of how many clicks each link has attracted, and then promotes the pages which some advertisers have paid Google to promote.  I don’t think Google has never sought - and I hope shall never seek - to deliver a series of results that meet “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”, because that would make a search engine unworkable.

Two comments in particular reveal just how confused the masses probably are (and therefore how confused the EC arrogantly and deliberately chooses to be, to create politicised problems for no good reason).  One commentator, Floridian, asked what was meant by Google bias.  In response, Observer cited an example of Obama’s birth certificate, and H Long cited an example of researching the arguments for and against anthropogenic global warming.  We know from Twitter that today’s internet users are open to change, therefore more open-minded, more liberal/left-wing and more vocal than the more Luddite conservative types.  So it’s hardly surprising that Google’s search results will tend to promote liberal/left-wing opinions, because those will be the links that most of Google’s users will most often click on.  That is how Google’s algorithm appears to work!

Other commentators claimed Google needs competition, seemingly missing the point of the article on which they commented, which listed 14 competitors of Google… some of whom allegedly sub-contract to Google…. Oh dear.  There’s just no helping some people.

All the same, searchenginewatch.com proved very succinctly that there is no market failure, and no obstruction to consumers wishing to bypass an operator alleged to be abusing the market.  This means that the EC has no objective basis to intervene, even if asked to do so by an aggrieved party.

Searchenginewatch.com listed no non-American search engines.  So I did another search (on Google, using Google Chrome) for “European search engines.”  The top result was searchengineland.com, itself another American site, hosting an article from Bas van den Beld written in 2010.  Again, the site spammed me - after 60 seconds, better than only 10 second, but I’m still being spammed - but I persisted for the purpose of this blog entry.

Van den Beld listed only 5 search engines: Bing for UK and France, Yandex for Russia, Seznam for Czech Republic, Vinden.nl for Netherlands and - most alarmingly of all - Conduit for Germany and Spain.  Van den Beld cautions readers of this English-language webpage that each site shall follow the language of its core market; that some cases sub-contract to Google; that other sites exist in each country.  Again, it adds to the evidence to prove that there is no market failure for the EC to resolve.

Why is Conduit alarming?  Because between 2008 and 2011, I was an acting IT bod at work.  Conduit was the name of an app that behaved like malware.  It installed itself as a Windows app, being a payload from a browser action that also made Conduit the default search engine.  Users would complain that their machines were sluggish and occasionally, browser windows would just pop up without user request spamming the user with things they didn’t need, or even want to see.  If you do a Google search for “Conduit” - remembering that Google lists pages by the numbers of links clicked - you’ll see that the overwhelming majority of links on the first four pages are about the removal of malware.  Van den Beld listed Conduit.com as the search engine’s website; it is no more, and the domain appears to be have been bought by a different company selling something different.  No wonder in 2010 conduit.com had a big market share in Germany: the adware was probably doing stuff without its users’ permission!

Conclusion


Searchenginewatch.com demonstrates that there is no market failure in the search engine market, which means the EC has no basis to form an opinion, let alone to fine a single participant in the market.

Unfortunately, the EC seems to bear a grudge against the American companies that provide most of the digital services that consumers enjoy, both for free and for payment.  Microsoft has a comparable history with the same EC.

The moral of the story is that EC claims to be the champion of the consumer, but in this case is actually promoting the vested interests of spammers and other second-rate advertisers.  There is no way that the EC’s current line of persecution against Google could ever promote consumer interests.

The meta-moral of the story is that EC has had to invent, or misconstrue, concepts in law in order to abuse its power as regulatory enforcer, targeting American corporations for doing what they said they would do, but somehow not targeting European corporations for not doing what they said they would do.

I accept that Google is in a position to abuse its market position, but while it keeps on delivering the services that I use on a daily basis - at home and at work - why would I complain?